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A Pleasant Interlude


As one of Europe’s leading composers and performers, Felix Mendelssohn was also an astute judge of the talents of others, including his best friends. On May 23, 1834, he wrote to his mother of an encounter at a Music Festival in Aix-la-Chapelle after a rehearsal of Handel’s oratorio Deborah:

Who should trip right into my arms but Ferdinand Hiller, who was so glad to see me that he almost hugged me to death. He had come from Paris to hear the oratorio, and Chopin had skipped out on his students to come with him, and so we met again.

Now I had everything I could want from the Music Festival, because the three of us stayed together, and got a private box in the theater where the oratorio is performed, and, of course, on the following morning we went to the piano, where I found the most enjoyment. Both of them have improved greatly in their playing, and as a pianist Chopin is now one of the very best. He comes up with new effects the way Paganini does with his violin, and pulls off previously implausible passages.

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Hiller is also a commendable player–powerful and yet light. Nonetheless, both tend to fall into the passionate, flamboyant Parisian style–often losing track of tempo and sobriety. On the other hand, maybe I don’t fall into it enough. So all three of us naturally learn and improve each other, making me feel a little like a school teacher and they like French dandies.

After the festival we traveled together to Düsseldorf and spent a very enjoyable day there, playing and talking about music. Then I accompanied them yesterday to Cologne. Early this morning they set out for Coblenz by steamer. I took off in the other direction and the pleasant interlude was over.